Dave Hopla isn't impressed with himself. But he sees kids increasingly becoming more and more distracted, and he knows that his incredible shooting ability could go unmatched for a long time.
"As much time as kids spend playing video games," Hopla said, "if they spent that time playing the actual game, they'd be on the video game."
He may sound a little irritated, but this is one 53-year old that young basketball players should pay attention to. It's a safe bet that nobody on the planet can shoot a basketball better than Dave Hopla. And he has proof.
From the age of 16, Hopla has written down the result of every single shot he's taken. Anymore, they're mostly makes.
Consider the personal records he's constantly striving to beat, records he says "keep me motivated."
- He once made 1,234 free throws in a row without a miss.
- He once made 211 high school 3-pointers in a row without a miss.
- He once made 181 college 3-pointers in a row without a miss.
- He once made 78 NBA 3-pointers in a row without a miss.
Overall, Hopla makes more than 98 percent of the shots he takes. In 2007, he made 11,093 of 11,183 shots he took--a 99.19 shooting percentage. He always does shooting demonstrations at various camps he works, and oftentimes he goes the whole day without a miss. At a 2007 camp in Los Angeles, for example, he made all 272 shots he took.
Though the numbers disagree, Hopla insists he is nothing special. He's devoted his career toward showing players of all levels that his remarkable gift isn't a gift at all--it's a skill that anyone can learn.
"If you want to be the greatest shooter in the world, there are two things you have to do," Hopla said. "Number one is shoot the ball correctly with correct shooting form.
"The second part is why nobody wants to be the greatest anymore: You have to shoot it more times than anybody else the correct way."
Building the Skill
Hopla says he wasn't that great of a shooter when he was a teenager--his elbow stuck out and he had side spin on his ball, among other harmful quirks.
When he was 16 years old, he went to a camp that had three coaches breaking down the mechanics of shooting.
That camp changed Hopla's life.
"George Lehman called it BEEF: Balance, Elbow, Eyes, Follow-Through," Hopla said. "I just tweaked it a little bit."
With that, Hopla flies through the word association he uses to make sure he and his students remember all the fundamentals of the perfect shooting form:
- Toes to target: make sure your toes are pointing to the basket.
- Feet shoulder-width apart.
- Form the letter L with your shooting arm.
- Wrinkle the wrist: the skin on your wrist should wrinkle up when you cock it.
- Bend and extend your legs.
- Make sure your elbow is above your eyebrow.
- Hand to the hoop.
- Freeze the follow-through.
Knowing the proper way to shoot is half the battle, and Hopla took that knowledge and went to work. With years of practice under his belt, he now makes more than 98 percent of his shots.
He has dedicated his career to passing the message on. Hopla's shooting prowess and willingness to teach it has captured the attention of the NBA. Hopla has personally worked out several NBA stars. He has worked with the Toronto Raptors over the years and was an assistant coach for the Washington Wizards a few years ago.
Here's what you need to remember: Hopla is an incredible shooter and has coached other incredible shooters. But what works for him and his students isn't a big secret.
Putting the Work In
After mastering the shooting form, Hopla says there's only one more thing to do. Practice, practice, practice. Obsessively.
That alone is what prevents many young players from being great shooters.
"They don't put enough time in," Hopla said. "Kids play how many AAU games in the summer? When do they go in a gym and make 500 shots in the summertime? They never do it. All they do is play games.
"You're not going to become a better shooter or a better player just by playing games. It's not going to happen. You wonder why guys can't make free throws. They don't practice them. They play AAU games. They play four games a day on the weekends and they travel from city to city."
Hopla tells the story of traveling to Europe this summer and meeting a German coach who works with Dallas Mavericks star Dirk Nowitzki.
"He told Dirk, 'You make it look so easy,'" Hopla said, "and Dirk said 'I should! I've been doing the same thing the same way since I was 10 years old. I've done it 10 million times!'
"He kind of ripped into him, but he was exactly right."
One thing that most players don't do is exactly what helped make Hopla great--he keeps accurate track of every shot he takes.
"I'm 53, I've been doing camps for 23 years now, and maybe 10 people have showed me books," Hopla said. "People don't do it. Go to a weight room, and what do you see? Even guys who are 80 years old write down what they did in a weight room. You need feedback."
When working with the Raptors and Wizards, Hopla kept a log for every single player. The positives that stemmed from it were numerous.
"The guys loved it. They want to know, 'What did so-and-so shoot?'" Hopla said. "When you have it with them and you can show them they're improving, they gain confidence. After they gain confidence they see they're getting better, they want to practice more."
It's even more effective when players are struggling with a certain shot.
"Players will say 'Oh, I didn't make X amount of shots here, I want to go back to that spot,'" Hopla said. "It tells a lot about a guy's competitive spirit, too. If someone misses 15 out of 20 shots from a spot, a lot of guys don't want to go back to that spot. The great ones say 'Hey coach, I'm not leaving this spot until I make 15 out of 20.'"
That kind of dedication often is the difference between an OK shooter and a great shooter. Even if your shot feels comfortable, it might not be correct. The willingness to sacrifice short-term comfort for long-term benefits is why Ray Allen and Kobe Bryant asked for Hopla's help to begin with.
And it could make a big difference in your shot.
"A lot of people say 'Oh, it doesn't feel right.'" Hopla said. "It's like a new pair of shoes. You don't throw your shoes in the garbage. You keep working them."